No, thank you mingles together as November unfolds into December and the waiting that marks Advent mingles together all that my heart holds in the realm of emptiness and hope. It has been a deep well of felt emotions to swim through over the past week. It feels important to acknowledge the word felt; because truthfully for all of my desire to remain present and feeling life in all of its messy realness I am also apt to don my wetsuit, a layer of neoprene emotional protection that keeps me from feeling the depth of the emotional waters I am navigating.

November.  No is a defiant hand that rises up inside of me with the full force of my intensity and strength behind it.  (this is possibly my favorite bitmoji character)

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It surfaces when I feel someone in my tribe is in need of protection, when I’ve had enough disappointment and can no longer swallow or contain what’s happening, or when I’ve given out a lot of myself and feel done inside (this has been named by those who know me well as my “done face” and looks very much like my bitmoji as pictured).

When the call came late in October that my dad needed open heart surgery my hand went up with a sign flashing in neon red, NO!  Enough. Stop. Please. Really God? No. Nope. NO thank you.

November 10th I boarded yet another plane to Phoenix.  My dad’s surgery was the next day and thankfully it went well.

The medical crises that have precipitated my presence in Phoenix multiple times over the past six months have all summoned my NO.  Yet, the unexpected gifts that have come from these places of NO can only be described as stunning, leaving my heart holding unanticipated gratitude.

As my dad sat in his recliner a week ago, my mom and I decorated for Christmas.  I haven’t helped my mom put up Christmas in well over a decade. The boxes of Christmas decor are all filled with sweet memories and the unmistakable scent of my mother’s love for Christmas.  The impact from her stroke in May lingers and while there have been tangible losses for her, there has also been a unlocking of her edgy wit, wild and hilariously fun, bringing many moments of laughter. A blessing has been given to me in having these unexpected times in Phoenix.

My parents love each other deeply, enjoy each other immensely and are gifting their children and grandchildren as they age together in exquisite kindness, connection and care for one another.  It is breathtaking and gratitude inducing.

It is part of their legacy and a golden thread in the tapestry of my life.

The lingering goodness of No and thank you mingled together in my heart as I flew home from Phoenix with my son for Thanksgiving.

Each of my kids had their contributions to the day.  Elly baked pies with me, Katy brought appetizers and wine, Allison helped with the table settings, Libby made cards of blessing for each person to mark their spot at the table and Steven chose the music.  They all had ideas about how the day should go as we prepared for the guests who were joining us.

It’s not always easy for me to honor each of my kids and their unique wishes, because sometimes their wishes collide and what one wants can feel like it leaves another without what they want.  It creates tension inside of me and starts to surface my No.  And, a by product of the deep well of emotions this week was that I simply didn’t have much energy left to grab my No sign.  And, so I swam in the tension of my own internal world and stayed in the kitchen while my kids talked it through, finally deciding no “place cards” assigning spots, no official plan about making sure everyone spoke about their “gratitude.”  We would just welcome our guests and let the day unfold in its own way.

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People wrote on the cards and with no direction from me, we gathered together after dinner and had a spontaneous reading of the words of blessing for one another. In the end it was more perfect than if I’d planned it all out and worked to make it happen. (Yes, I’ve made a note to myself here.)

No and thank you remain inside me, mingling together as the preparations for Christmas are colliding with the preparations to put our house up for sale. It has been a year of heart “procedures” both medical and emotional, culminating with my dad’s open heart surgery and the ending of my job at Open Hearts, a ministry that has been at the forefront of my life for the past 15 years.

I sense the strong invitation to continue embracing the risky presence of hope, which seems a good place to be entering into Advent.


DSC_0512Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12).  She is the Founder of Red Tent Living.  Married for 29 years, she is mother to five kids.  After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is.
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